Chuck Palahniuk Unveils Politically Tinged Novel 'Adjustment Day'

His first prose project in four years "is to 'Fight Club' what 'Atlas Shrugged' is to 'The Fountainhead,'" says the novelist.
Courtesy of WW Norton & Company

Chuck Palahniuk is returning to prose novels for the first time in four years with Adjustment Day.

Released Tuesday, Adjustment Day takes the social unrest of America today to its logical — and utterly illogical — conclusions, as a generation of disaffected youth discovers the Declaration of Interdependence, a document that offers both inspirational slogans and preparation for the end of the United States as we know it: the titular “Adjustment Day," which pushes the world of alternative facts, conspiracy theories and information bubbles to a new level.

As Palahniuk sets out on a promotional tour — see dates below — Heat Vision talked to the writer about the book, and its connections to the world around us, and also his previous work. 

Adjustment Day feels, in many ways, like a novel made out of the times we’re living in — one in which cult of personality (and a desire to belong to specific tribes) fractures the world people are familiar with, and creates something different — and worse — in its wake. Is this a cautionary tale, a satire, or something else altogether?

Psst.... The secret? It's a romance. A civil war. A bright young woman torn between the man she wants and the man who wants her. Her ascent to nobility. It's a rewrite of Gone With the Wind. Complete with a dialect-spouting, black-faced old white lady as Mammy. Love sets the plot in motion, and love is the central quest. Sigh. Is it my fault that history always repeats itself, "First as tragedy, then as farce," as Napoleon would say?    

Related to that, in a sense: How does it feel to write what is, in many ways, absurdist speculative fiction (I always see threads of both Philip K. Dick and [Kurt] Vonnegut in your writing, but maybe that’s my own tastes coming into play) at a time when reality feels more and more like bad versions of the same? Does it spur you to want to go further, or feel as if the world is at war with your work?

Look really close and you'll see Nathanael West in there, too. And more than a little Gogol. Years ago, doing volunteer work escorting terminally ill people to their therapy/support groups, something always struck me: As a dying person would report the progress of his condition, someone with only weeks or even days left, he'd often stop short. He'd start to laugh. Then everyone present would laugh. Humans can only bear the burden of so much misery before it tips into feeling absurd. That's why surreal and absurd stories by Gogol and [Franz] Kafka and E.B. White appeal to me. The chaos they depict achieves a profundity that orderly, rational fiction lacks.  

There are many parts of the book that feel, for want of a better way to put it, ripped from the headlines — not least of which is The List, which feels like an extreme version (with, admittedly and importantly, entirely different ambitions) of the “media men” list that was in the news at the start of the year. Both The List and the media men list are outgrowths of existing trends across social media, which speaks to things I feel you’ve been interested in for some time: inner lives and the ability to express them safely, perhaps…?

My readers contact me regularly. Bear in mind, these aren't the Oprah Book Club sort. And the less-than-savory have offered to...how to say this: Kill anyone I name, free of charge. Of course I'd never act on these offers, but who can pass up such a bargain? I'm always tickled when police officers and firefighters send me the windshield stickers that prevent me from ever getting a traffic ticket. And the thrifty penny pincher in me always maintains a short list of people I could live without. Not that I'd ever, ever, ever act on this impulse. Did I mention that my father was murdered by an avowed white supremacist who claimed to have buried anthrax bombs throughout the Pacific Northwest? Well, he was.       

There are areas of crossover with Fight Club here; the notion of weaponizing disaffected men, especially. In a strange way, though, Adjustment Day feels like a response to, or evolution of, the earlier book — what happens when the impulses that drove Project Mayhem are treated as commodities, or pawns in someone else’s plan. Is that a fair reading?

Bing, bing, bing, you win. This book, Adjustment Day is to Fight Club what Atlas Shrugged is to The Fountainhead. The earlier book demonstrates the growth and empowerment of an individual. The latter book depicts what happens when a passel of those like-minded individuals join forces. As for "Going Galt," that strategy is explored in the graphic novel Fight Club 2, just released in paperback.   

Fight Club felt like a response to culture that then, especially via the movie adaptation, became the culture itself. I find myself hoping that Adjustment Day isn’t as successful a predictor of the world that’s coming. I guess this is getting back to the cautionary tale thing again…

Remember: "A smile is your best bullet-proof vest!" [Note: This is one of the aphorisms from the novel’s Declaration of Interdependence.]

What’s your media diet like? I’m curious especially because there are echoes of things like Black Mirror and The Purge in Adjustment Day, but I can also see echoes of your earlier work in those different properties. What do you enjoy reading, watching, listening to? What fuels you, and also informs your work?

My taste is for the extreme. While I don't always agree with the writer Jim Goad, his accounts of his brother's murder are very moving. His anger and lack of sentiment force his readers to have the grief reaction. And even when I disagree with him, he can usually make me laugh. I read Jack Donovan because he's one of the few men writing about male issues with the skill and passion of a Roxane Gay or Margaret Atwood. I follow Jesus Hotep. I follow most people who espouse a radical plan of action. But now that Adjustment Day is done and launched, I might spend a few years catching up on kitten videos. And no, that's not a euphemism for Pornhub. Sheesh.

Palahniuk’s tour starts Tuesday in Portland, Ore. The dates are below.

May 1: Powell’s (Hawthorne) Portland, OR (no tickets required)
May 2: Elliott Bay Book Company Seattle (tickets)
May 4: Green Apple Books San Francisco (tickets)
May 6: Vroman’s Bookstore Pasadena, CA (tickets)
May 8: Strand Bookstore New York (tickets)
May 10: Greenlight Bookstore (Fort Greene) Brooklyn, NY (tickets)
May 12: Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA (tickets)

 
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